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Denmark first U.N. member to pay for ‘loss and damage’ from climate change

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Denmark will direct about $13 million to vulnerable countries that have suffered “losses and damages” from climate change – the first time in the history of the United Nations that a rich country has pledged to offset the consequences of emissions in the developing world.

The historic announcement on Tuesday came as diplomats and world leaders gathered in New York for the United Nations General Assembly. Earlier today, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on countries to tax fossil fuel companies and use the revenue to help people suffering the irreversible harms of climate change.

In a statement, Danish Development Minister Fleming Moller Mortensen said visiting flood-stricken areas in Bangladesh this spring helped inspire the pledge.

“It is grossly unfair that the world’s poorest suffer the most from the consequences of climate change, to which they have contributed as little as possible,” Mortensen said.

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Financing loss and damage has long been a rallying cry for climate justice advocates and leaders from vulnerable countries. Rich nations, including the United States, have rejected those calls, fearing that any kind of financial commitment could entail legal liability for the mounting losses of climate change.

But the issue has gained momentum amid the mounting devastation from climate catastrophes, such as the drought-stoked famine in East Africa and the recent deadly floods in Pakistan. Some 400 groups of activists issued a letter this month calling for funding for loss and damage to be added to the agenda of the United Nations climate negotiations in November in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.

At last year’s talks in Glasgow, Scotland became the first government contributor to the Loss and Damage Fund. (As a constituent country of the United Kingdom, Scotland is not a member state of the United Nations.) The Belgian region of Wallonia pledged another million euros for the case.

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Activists say Denmark’s investment in losses and damages is the largest to date – although it pales in comparison to the financial losses climate change causes each year. The cost of recovering from floods in Pakistan alone is estimated to be over $10 billion.

Climate change is causing irreparable harm to poor countries. At COP26, the wealthy face pressure to foot the bill.

According to an announcement from the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the pledge includes 40 million Danish kroner – about $5.4 million – to work with civil society organizations to address losses and damages, especially in the African Sahel region. It has also allocated millions to “strategic efforts” around loss and damage negotiations ahead of the upcoming talks in Egypt.

Harjit Singh, head of global policy strategy at the nonprofit Climate Action Network, described Denmark’s pledge as “important”. But he noted that about a third of the promised funding will go to the global partnership InsuResilience, a program organized by the United Nations through which private companies provide disaster insurance to those most vulnerable to climate change.

This setup will “create business for European companies in developing countries, ultimately making vulnerable people pay the price for losses and damages from climate disasters,” Singh said.

The Danish embassy could not be reached for comment.

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